Beloved Canadian author Farley Mowat dead at 92
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, May 7, 2014 12:42PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 7, 2014 9:39PM EDT
Beloved author Farley Mowat, who was known as much for his environmental activism as for his vivid literary depictions of the Canadian wilderness, has died. He was 92.
A cause of death was not immediately made public.
Born in Belleville, Ont., and raised in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Mowat became best known for telling stories set against the Canadian wilderness.
His most famous works included “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be” from 1957, “Owls in the Family” from 1961 and “Never Cry Wolf” from 1963.
“Lost in the Barrens,” published in 1956, won the Governor General’s Award, while “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float” won the Leacock Medal for Humour in 1970.
Mowat wrote 40 books, which were translated into 52 languages and sold more than 17 million copies worldwide.
Mowat was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981.
“Farley Mowat was a passionate Canadian who shaped a lot of my generation growing up with his books,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill upon hearing the news. “He will be sorely missed.”
Mowat was a family friend who gave the young Trudeau boys a Labrador retriever they named Farley “who had a penchant for running after porcupines,” Trudeau said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was a friend of Mowat’s for more than 30 years and named the author a godfather to her daughter.
“Farley was extraordinarily talented author and writer, as well as, of course, an activist and defender of all wild things,” she told CTV News Channel in a telephone interview from Ottawa.
“He was an authentic, caring, deeply rooted Canadian,” she said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, extending his “deepest condolences” to Mowat’s friends and family.
“One of Canada’s most widely read authors, he was a natural storyteller with a real gift for sharing personal anecdotes in a witty and endearing way. His literary works almost always reflected his deep love of nature and of animals,” Harper said.
“Mr. Mowat will be remembered as a passionate Canadian. His legacy will live on in the treasure of Canadian literature he leaves behind, which will remain a joy to both new and old fans around the world.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair tweeted that Canada “has lost a great Canadian today.
“Farley Mowat’s work as an author and environmentalist has had a great impact on Canada and the world.”
Authors Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson issued a statement, saying they are “deeply sorry to hear this sad news.
“Farley was a great and iconic Canadian who understood our environmental problems decades before others did. He loved this country with a passion and threw himself into the fray -- in wartime as well -- also with a passion. He was so good-natured and down to earth. We will miss him very much.”
Meanwhile, environmental activist David Suzuki said he “constantly reminded us we are part of nature and we depend on nature.”
Publisher Doug Gibson recalled “a small, feisty, kilt-wearing character” who “wore his kilt dangerously.”
“He always enjoyed the odd drink or two or three,” Gibson told CTV News Channel. “He may have been small in stature, but boy he was a great character and a greater writer.”
Mowat ‘passionate for this country’
Mowat was perhaps known as much for his environmental activism as he was for his writing. Literary agent Robert Mackwood said Mowat’s “passion” for the environment dated back to his early writings.
“As somebody who was out there living on the land, living in the environment, that was what was ingrained in him,” Mackwood told CTV News Channel in a telephone interview from B.C. “He was very passionate about this country, very passionate about the land, the seas, the oceans.”
Mowat was recognized “wherever he went,” Mackwood said, and was “just a pleasure to be around.”
“He was someone that people immediately gravitated to, and someone who could tell a story, tell a yarn,” Mackwood said.
Talk radio host John Moore, who interviewed Mowat many times, said the author “lived a life that just does not exist anymore.” Mowat built a shack in the wilderness, grew his own food and visited places that others had not.
Mowat was “an adventurer, a wonderful writer and a great storyteller,” Moore told News Channel.
Mowat was born in Belleville, Ont., on May 12, 1921.
After his family moved to Saskatoon, Mowat was a teenaged bird columnist for the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.
He served in the Second World War, stationed largely in Italy, an experience that informed a later book, 1979’s “And No Birds Sang.” Upon his return to Canada and enrollment at the University of Toronto, Mowat embarked on a field trip to the north that introduced him to the plight of Canada’s Inuit. That led to his first book, 1952’s “People of the Deer,” the first of many of the “controversial books,” according to Gibson.
“Very early on, he caught on to the fact that, ‘wait a minute, we’re treating the natural world very badly,’” Gibson said.
“He was on to the common plight that we all have, that people are slowly catching up to, that we have to preserve the natural world in order to preserve our inheritance.”
Among his many books was 1984’s “Sea of Slaughter,” which looked at how Canada has treated ocean-dwelling wildlife.
In the mid-1980s, the rabble rouser was barred by U.S. immigration officials under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 from heading south for a “Sea of Slaughter” book tour.
The Act, also known as the McCarran-Walter Act, denies entry to those considered “prejudicial to the public interest.”
“When they are prepared to come to me and make an apology, then I will consider,” Mowat had said in an interview. “And just barely consider at some future time, enter their country.”
Mowat was “massively discouraged” by what he saw as the failure of human beings to protect the planet and all creatures that live on it, May said.
“Farley was less charitable to humanity than I am,” May said. “He was less willing to say that humanity was playing a positive role on this planet because of the massive destruction and threat to other life forms.”
Mowat also wrote several books about Newfoundland based on the eight years he lived there. Upon leaving Newfoundland, he settled in Port Hope, Ont.
In 2002, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society named its ship RV Farley Mowat in honour of his anti-whaling activism. In 2006, a school named for him opened in an Ottawa suburb.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Claire, and two children.
With files from CTV News’ Peter Akman